ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Postcards from Below

Life as a Dalit: Views from the Bottom on Caste in India edited by Subhadra Mitra Channa and Joan P Mencher (New Delhi: Sage Publications), 2013; pp 438, Rs 1,495.

An influential work of research has recently asserted quite strongly that the word “dalit” is no more a stigmatised subject, rather it represents a genealogy of the Indian political system. The author had tried to locate the discursive mechanism through which the word dalit, transcended the apparently negative connotations which might have been associated with it in the past, possibly in favour of a recent confrontational identity seeking to displace the terms of exclusion with radical demands for inclusion.1 In the academic world, there is a growing awareness about dalit writings, the majority of which question their representation as “ex-untouchables” and try to refashion their identity in both positive and self-assertive terms.2 The literature on the quotidian life experiences of the dalits insists on a juxtaposition of past, present and the future.

The present volume by taking up the issue of discrimination of dalits also tries to take a look at caste from the bottom, rather than from the top. The book’s introduction clearly states that the observations and inferences have not been drawn from a positivist value neutral stand but from a specifically stated human rights perspective that recognises some categories as “victims and others as perpetrators of discriminations and even violence against others” (p xiii). Both editors are distinguished social anthropologists and it is their participation in social interactive situations, which makes them comprehend the meanings of untouchability and caste in contemporary India. The recovery of the lost voices of the dalits is possibly the most important agenda behind the volume.

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